Book Blog.*

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
January 25, 2010, 5:30 am
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In 1984, Huxley  added,  people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

Image from Barnes & Noble
Book cover

As if the above excerpt, which came from the introduction, were any indication of the eye-opening potential contained within, take a look at the cover! I chose this book out of three I felt were readable and possibly enjoyable. I’m glad I did.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is a book that was not nearly as relevant when it was first published twenty years ago as it is now. Neil Postman’s son, Andrew, maintains this point in his foreword by making some seriously accurate connections between what his father feared and what has arguably come to pass in recent years.
     This book claims to be a ‘call to action’, something that many of the news programs, reality shows, and trash TV aren’t.  It also expects to serve as a wake-up call for a world that has become so engrossed in the instant gratification that comes from television (computers, the internet, and cellphones) that it has lost its ability to think.
     The author (and his son) expected to receive grand overtures that defended the world’s need for all of the technology in our world today, but as the foreword also explains, this has not been the case as time has gone on – it has actually been the polar opposite. Many people who read this book not only understood Postman’s fears, but agreed with them.
     This has become especially true among the group of people, Andrew feels, who are the most unbiased and uncorrupted group – people who grew up in this age and therefore aren’t held ‘captive’ by an older generation’s logic: Us. College students. We, more than anyone else, have our minds the most open to the fact that all the things that have become our lifeline could potentially ruin us. Weird, huh?
     I think this will be an interesting read.

I’ll hate this and change it later. [My Media History]
January 17, 2010, 5:24 pm
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It wasn’t the best, but it was the only TV we had, at first. It was twenty-seven inches in diameter and was – thankfully – in color. It stayed in my parents’ room and we almost always watched it together. It wasn’t soon after that we had a Sega Genesis. We usually played games like Sonic the Hedgehog as a family, which usually meant us kids cheered on while my stepfather skillfully beat the entire game. That would be the beginning of my personal media history. I remember all of us being closer back then because we had to share.

I used to love going to my grandma’s house every afternoon and watching TV after finishing my homework for the day, even during that one summer when her cable was messed up and all we could watch was The Brady Bunch for two and a half months (which really made me grateful for the trashier shows I got to watch at home). She always had a better TV than we did and, to top it off, she had two of them so we could pretty much watch what we wanted. I was in love with the idea of commanding the remote control for the three hours I spent there each day. This didn’t change much even after my sisters and I got a TV in our room because my grandma also happened to have a hundred or so channels that we didn’t have at home.

One of my favorite Christmas gifts was an electronic diary. It was the first gadget that I had all to myself and I was even able to create a password for it. I was so young that I had to constantly reset it because I never remembered what I entered. This got easier when I started spending my summers at my mom’s job and could play solitaire on her computer. I even learned how to type a little while I was there.

It wasn’t soon after that I got my first cellphone. I was eleven years old. I remember being one of two students in my class who had one. It made it easier for me to go on field trips and join after school activities because my mom was able to contact me whenever she wanted, which put her mind at ease. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a cell phone after that.

The next milestone in my media history occurred when my grandma surprised my sisters and me by getting a computer in her house. I was ecstatic. We were on dial-up and our computer time was strictly monitored, not just because we were tying up the phone line, but because my grandma wanted to make sure we didn’t come across anything unsafe or inappropriate. I loved playing computer games and receiving emails – up until then I had never done anything like that, not even on the computers we occasionally used at school. It ignited a desire in me to master this new machine.

I wanted to know everything about using a computer and that required more time to use it and so, after a little begging, my mom bought us a Compaq. We still had the issue of tying up the phones so she ended up buying a second line so we could stay on as long as we wanted. Having a computer at home was convenient, but also limited. Things resembled like earlier in my childhood, when we were all huddled around our one TV and/or video game, only now it was a computer. One I wanted so badly to use as much as I could but had to share with my family.

I think the most significant milestone would be when we had two computers in our home. With unlimited access to my very own computer and the internet (thanks to AOL), I was a chatting, emailing, website-visiting machine. My friends talked way past the time when our parents would cut off our phone access. My mom was able to shop and pay her bills online. I even found programs that let me create things that I could put on the internet for everyone to see. There was a whole world of games and activities that we could do with not just each other, but people all over the world. I met people – good and bad – by exploring different venues. I learned about the dangers of being so connected as well as the importance of protecting myself and my information. There were viruses that could mess up our computers and people who could use the internet to harm us, we quickly learned.

Even with the possible dangers, the internet became so useful a school tool that making it a part of your research (or final project, or class) is almost given. I could access whole encyclopedias, whole libraries, and even the occasional online magazine. I could find out which library had the books I needed or even order them online. Once I became proficient at my current web and computer activities, I began exploring the possibilities of creating websites and networking socially – all things that have contributed to my desire to making a career centered on bringing information to the world by using the internet in creative ways.

I’d say that I’ve been though about eight different cell phones, three or more computers, four video game consoles, an iPod and two televisions. My TV is a permanent fixture in my house (though I hardly watch it) and it has become significantly larger (42 glorious inches of screen) and more adept at transmitting images and sound from all 2000 channels that are available to me. I have a phone that lets me access my email and computer applications that lets me make phone calls. Things are – obviously — more streamlined now. We can get news around the world just as easily as we can carry 5,000 songs in our pocket. We can even carry several books with us electronically now (I can’t wait until they let us do that for textbooks). It is no wonder that we all seem to be very dependent on the speed in which we can collect information. I certainly am.

Every time I was able to get something new, I became more connected to the world, had more access to information and other people. There were some other changes, though – ones that are arguably negative. While more possible connections exist, there is also a sense of distance as well. For instance, there are times when I receive more emails from my friends than I do phone calls, never mind seeing them in person. We don’t have to be anywhere near each other to keep in touch anymore and, for some, that would be a bad thing. I would still say that the opportunities that come with access to media tools are unmatched.

Testing, testing.
January 14, 2010, 4:24 pm
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Testing, testing. 🙂